An act of Congress may stop a Chevy Chase-based developer from constructing an office building as tall as it wants across the street from the U.S. Capitol.
JBG Cos. is seeking to build a 130-foot-tall office building on a site of almost two acres it owns at 51 Louisiana Ave. NW. But height restrictions in the District limit most buildings to 110 feet.
While D.C. zoning officials granted JBG a variance to exceed the 110-foot limit earlier this year, security and police officials at the Capitol have objected. They say the lines of sight from the rooftop and penthouse of the proposed office building "present a serious security risk to the Senate wing of the Capitol," according to a letter from the Architect of the Capitol that's in the District's zoning files.
"When you allow a building at that height of 130 feet it causes numerous security concerns," said William H. Pickle, the Senate sergeant of arms, whose job includes overseeing the security of the Senate. "Like a sniper [getting on the roof]. That's one of the many concerns. You could look down on the Capitol complex from there.
"We all know the Capitol remains a very significant target for certain terrorist groups around the world," Pickle said. "We shouldn't do anything that would help them."
Last month, the concerns from security officials caused Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) to introduce an amendment to the Department of Interior's appropriations bill. It would void any variance for the building granted by the District unless the U.S. Capitol Police Board concludes that the variance would not "negatively impact congressional security" or increase federal spending on security and the bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate "approve such determination." The final version of the bill is being negotiated by a House-Senate committee.
"The legislation is meant to say 'Let's wait to construct this building and look at the security concerns,' " Pickle said.
JBG's plans for the site call for keeping the Acacia Building, which was built in 1935. It plans to tear down a parking garage and build a 12-story office building and an underground parking garage in its place.
The law firm of Jones Day, which is now in the Acacia Building, plans to take over part of the proposed new building, which would be designed by Lord Richard Rogers of London.
JBG disagrees that its proposed building causes a security threat. A letter in the zoning file from its security consultants says the building will have appropriate security measures, including a system to monitor the rooftop so a potential sniper could not get to it and landscaping that would block the view of the Capitol.
Benjamin R. Jacobs, one of the founders of JBG, wouldn't elaborate on the height dispute, except to say that "the Senate action speaks for itself." JBG has built, owns and manages 30 million square feet of office space and four million square feet of retail.
"We're going to proceed with the project," Jacobs said of the building on Louisiana Avenue. He would not say when construction would start.
* The site of an auto repair shop at 14th Street and Florida Avenue NW in the District will become a nine-story mixed-use project with about 170 residential condominiums, retail and parking. The developer -- District-based Level 2 -- said the project will have industrial-style designs that will give a nod to 14th Street's past as "Auto Row." Dealer showrooms along 14th Street were a magnet for car shoppers before World War II.
* JPI of suburban Dallas was chosen to manage a 16-story housing project for college and graduate students in Hyattsville, near the University of Maryland at College Park. The Towers is part of a 2 million-square-foot mixed-use expansion of the project.
* Lowe Enterprises Investors of Los Angeles bought two office buildings in Tysons Corner, totaling 432,000 square feet, from New Boston Fund, a Boston-based real estate investment firm. The buildings at 1953 Gallows Rd. and 1951 Kidwell Drive are 90 percent leased.
* Republic Properties Corp. of the District bought 1425 New York Ave., a 275,000-square-foot building that is mostly leased to the Department of Justice, for an undisclosed price from Amstar Group LLC of Denver. Jones Lang LaSalle represented the sellers.
Dana Hedgpeth writes about commercial real estate and economic development. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.